The Project

What is Counterspaces?

The Counterspaces project is a community-art collaborative model envisioned by two faculty members at the University of Minnesota Rochester (UMR) – Angie Mejia and Yuko Taniguchi and UMR alumna Lucia Sem. The project was an intentional response to the lack of transformative spaces and inadequate resources for students identifying as Black, Indigenous, or other People of Color (BIPOC).  The first seven pieces of artwork featuring visual and written art by students (Koak, Hernandez, Sem, Newton, Tavares, Yang) at UMR and the UMN system at large. Artists have their creations exhibited on the third floor of the Rochester Art Center and this website. Future work will be featured in October 2021 and January 2022. At the end of the project, all of the work created in these counterspaces will be incorporated into a digital moving image response/performance by visual artist Peng Wu.

What do you mean by the word counterspace? 

As a term, counterspaces have been conceptualized by Yosso and other critical race theorists as safe spaces of resistance where racially marginalized individuals can find support and engage in ways to transform their current lived reality.  Yosso et al (2010) have found that BIPOC students might “seek out and establish socio academic counterspaces that position their cultural knowledge as valuable strengths” (2010, p. 677) as a response to experiencing interpersonal, institutional, and structural forms of oppression, including gendered racism in institutions of higher learning. 
Why Counterspaces?
Taniguchi and Mejia were aware of how BIPOC students at UMR (a health sciences campus) have and continue to experience various forms of social isolation even though they make up around 40 percent of the student body. Instead of supporting students of color one-on-one, we imagined that using art and anti-racist praxis and pedagogy could nurture a space of respite and transformation for students to collectively and critically explore their experience as future POC science professionals. You will see this this project referred to as the Art and Heart project and the process we developed as the Counterspaces+art model.

Art and Heart → Counterspace+art

As an urgent response to the lack of resources and support for our BIPOC students and the ongoing acts of violence against BIPOC, Taniguchi, Mejia, and Sem planned on creating a counterspace that would allow BIPOC undergraduates in the health sciences to use art to communicate anxieties about their ongoing experiences as students and their future as healthcare providers and scientists.  

Steps to Counterspace+art: Workshops, Exhibit, Digital Home

The model is made up of three interconnected steps: The development and facilitation of a workshop or series of workshops geared to BIPOC students, which includes art instruction alongside discussion of and engagement with transformative texts by Women of Color activists; the coordination of a public exhibit featuring the work created in these workshops; and the maintenance of a digital archive for these works of art to live in after the exhibition is done.  We have included a quick overview of how we coordinated the workshops (including the crucial mentoring work that occurred in-between the workshop and exhibit) and set up the public exhibition at the Rochester Art Center (RAC) for those wishing to replicate the process.
Next Steps
As an arts-based and community-led research project, we continue to collaborate with others in using art as a mode of social justice via counterspaces, build scholarship (academic work emerging from the project and other recommended list readings are available here), and work in community to highlight projects that use art and social justice as praxis.

You can explore this site to see a virtual version of the Spring 2021 Counterspaces exhibit, including artists’ written texts and statements. Future workshops have been planned for October 2021 and January 2022.  Subsequently, artwork created in these future workshops will be exhibited at the RAC, on this site, and in other venues in Minnesota.